Last week on Wedenesday 31st Hackney Council Planning Sub-commitetee approved the controversial Sainsbury’s/Wilmer Place Development, as reported by East London Lines, and the Hackney Citizen. This was despite the massive turn out of support and the huge petition.
Two of the councillors did not even bother to speak or ask questions, they simply voted when urged to by the chair to approve the application.
To say people were upset was an understatement, and no doubt some of the things that were said were regrettable. But the anger that was felt was genuine and well founded. Our community, which has never been so well organised and united, was simply ignored.
But before we go on we have to pay tribute to the great speeches of Daniel, Louisa, Nick and Russell. Well done one and all.
We also have to pay tribute to the people who came out and listened to the debate and put the council under scrutiny. We did not get the right result but they knew we were watching.
An unfounded rumour
An unfounded rumour which emerged on Wednesday was that one of the councillors had explained they voted the way they did because they had been briefed beforehand and told that they should approve the application as if they did not the Council would inevitably lose the appeal.
If this was true it would have been entirely wrong, the councillors are meant to make their decision on the facts that they are presented with in the committee meeting. Stokey Local reports that they have spoken to the relevant councillor who told them (originally in a private exchange of emails, but which she has subsequently agreed can be reproduced) that:
“I voted, reluctantly, in favour as I was of the opinion that the applicant would win their appeal and the scheme on the table was an improvement on the appeal scheme. We could have made everyone in the room happy for a short while by voting it down but a few months down the line you would still have ended up with the result you didn’t want.
This is a consequence of how planning law works.
I did tell an irate member of the public that I had voted the way I did because I thought we would lose the appeal. I don’t know how she came to believe that we had been ‘instructed’ to vote in favour.
It is perhaps worth noting that Councillor Luke Akehurst (nothing if not a Labour party loyalist) tweeted: Really gutted by Wilmer Place Sainsburys N16 decision. Planning law doesn’t give enough weight to local public opposition.”
There is no doubt the councillors were pressurised to vote for granting permission, in the belief that the Council risked losing at appeal and that this would be expensive. Vincent Stops, the Chair, said something similar before the vote was taken. Since Wednesday Stokey Local reports, two of the five members on the committee have expressly conveyed to them that the deciding factor for them was the risk of losing an appeal.
So rather than deciding on what they thought of the application, the Councillors were basing their decision on what they thought the planning inspector might think at appeal. The councillors were clearly wrong in voting to approve the scheme, but they did so, not because of any ‘shenanigans or ‘dodgy handshakes’, but because as a committee they have become ‘risk averse’ and they feared that Sainbury’s would appeal any decision they did not like until they got what they wanted.
Praise goes to Councillor Barry Buitekant, the only member of the committee to have the courage to vote ‘no’ to this development. Thanks Barry.
While this was very much a community based campaign, there was also support from across the political spectrum, with many Labour, Green and LIb-Dems backing the campaign, so thanks to them as well. Most importantly of course, thanks to everyone who put the effort in to make this the biggest community mobilisation in Hackney for many, many years.
So what next?
Stokey Local are calling a meeting at 6.30pm on Wednesday 14 August, at the Methodist Church on the High Street (next to the Sainbury’s Local). In the meantime they will explore the possibility of a Judicial Review of the decision.
The meeting will do three things.
- Reflect on the campaign, celebrate what went well and consider what if anything could have been done differently
- Explore what if anything can now be done
- Finally, having built an organisation out of nothing that can mobilise people to leaflet, campaign and parade, against something we don’t like, think what we could do if we decided there was something positive we wanted for our community.
There is a saying, it does not matter how many times you get knocked down, it matters how many times you get back up again. On Wednesday night as a community we were knocked down. Let’s make sure we get up even stronger than before.
Please let us know if you can attend the meeting on Wednesday 16th by clicking here.
If you want a smile check out this short film of the bug parade; the paraders are pretty awesome.